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Open Access Crucial Processes in EMDR

More Than Imaginal Exposure

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The processes that underlie the effectiveness of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are examined by evaluating the procedural differences between it and exposure therapy. Major factors include the degree of emphasis placed on reliving versus distancing in the therapies and the degree to which clients are encouraged to focus on direct trauma experiences versus experiences associated with the trauma. Research results indicate that, unlike traditional imaginal exposure, reliving responses in EMDR did not correlate with symptom improvement. Instead, consistent with an information processing model, the degree of distancing in EMDR was significantly associated with improvement. A case study is described to highlight these methodological divergences in the respective therapies relating to reliving. Finally, the research regarding the possible sources of the distancing response within EMDR was examined. The results indicate that the distancing process was more likely to be an effect produced by eye movements than by any therapist instructions. Theoretical and research evaluations indicate that the mechanisms underlying EMDR and traditional exposure therapy are different.


Document Type: Review Article


Publication date: November 1, 2008

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  • The Journal of EMDR Practice and Research is a quarterly, peer-reviewed publication devoted to integrative, state-of-the-art papers about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a broadly conceived interdisciplinary journal that stimulates and communicates research and theory about EMDR, and their application to clinical practice.
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